8 Ways to Protect Yourself From Fraud and Identity Theft

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Every year there seems to be a major cyberattack in Canada. The most recent one being the cyberattack on the Canada Revenue Agency which exposed the data of many Canadians. Shortly after that information was compromised, hackers used it to change the banking information of victims so they could fraudulently accept CERB payments.

It sounds crazy that a government agency such as the CRA would be a victim, but that proves that fraud is something to take seriously. To help ensure you’re not a victim of fraud and identity theft, here are 8 things you can do right now to protect yourself.

fraud and identity theft

Be smart about your PIN

Having a secure PIN for your credit and debit cards is one of the easiest things you can do to protect yourself. Don’t use ‘1234’ or any number that could be easy to guess such as your birthday. Get in the habit of changing your PIN at least once a year and make sure all of your cards have different PIN numbers. Without the correct PIN, it can be very difficult for thieves to use your information.

Keep your personal information safe

Have you ever noticed that many security questions revolve around your personal information? It makes sense since only you should know the answer to those questions. However, you could also be giving out that information freely without even realizing it.

If you use social media, never post things such as where you went to grade school, your mother’s maiden name, or your first pet’s name since that information could be used to access your accounts. You don’t need to keep your social media profiles completely private, but think twice about what you’re making public.

Take advantage of your credit card features

Most credit cards have fraud protection where you won’t be liable for unauthorized purchases, but did you know there are even more ways to protect yourself? Some credit card providers offer two-way fraud alerts that identify unusual transactions in real-time, and then send you an email or text message prompting you to verify the transaction. This feature isn’t always automatic, so you need to opt-in to in order for this alert to be active. From personal experience, I can tell you that fraud alerts have caught multiple attempts of fraud with my accounts.

Check your statements on a regular basis

Some people only look at the amount owing when their credit card bills arrive. Although it’s great that you’re being proactive about paying your bills, you really need to check every individual transaction too. It’s actually shocking when you look at credit card fraud statistics in Canada.

Go through every line to see if there’s a charge that you don’t recognize. Be sure you cross-reference these purchases with what you’ve actually bought. For example, if the charge is from Amazon, double check to see if you actually purchased something from them.

Thieves aren’t always looking to make big purchases; sometimes they make small ones first to see if you’ll notice. If there’s a purchase you don’t recognize, call your credit card provider immediately so they can investigate.

Report lost or misplaced cards immediately

If you think you’ve lost or misplaced a card, you’ll want to report it right away. Even if the thief doesn’t have your PIN, they can still use your cards for tap purchases.

Many credit card providers can put a temporary block on your card to prevent people from using it to make purchases. If you find your card later, simply unlock it. The best part about this feature is that with some providers, you don’t even need to call in anymore. The block can be done via the mobile app.

Check your credit score

Having a good credit score is essential if you’re going to get a loan in the future. Borrowell allows you to check your credit score for free so you can monitor for unexpected changes on a weekly basis. If your credit score has dropped, that could be a sign that someone has tried to open a new loan under your name.

In case you’re not familiar with credit scores, it’s a number between 300 and 900. The higher the number, the more creditworthy you are. Although your number can fluctuate, you do want to investigate any changes. For example, applying for a new credit card would drop your score by 10 points. If you notice a drop and you haven’t applied for any credit products, you need to look into why the change happened.

Choose strong passwords

Similar to your PIN, you should be choosing passwords that aren’t easy to guess. Since thieves are becoming smarter, it’s a good idea to use a combination of letters and numbers when choosing a password, but don’t forget to mix in some upper/lower case characters and symbols.

The annoying thing is that not every website allows you to use symbols, so you can’t make your password more secure even if you wanted to. For added security, you could add in 2-factor authentication which would make accessing your data extremely difficult. Also, never use the same password for any two sites.

Get a copy of your credit report

So, what do you do if you think you’re a victim of fraud? You should order your credit report from Transunion and Equifax. That’s right, Canada has two credit reporting bureaus, so you need to check both if you want to ensure your identity hasn’t been compromised. Your credit report will show all open accounts so you can look into things if there’s something you don’t recognize.

Final thoughts

Preventing fraud and identity theft requires constant attention. Thieves are constantly looking for new ways to access your information. Take the steps to protect yourself and you’ll less likely be a victim.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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